Shame is one of those emotions that everyone carries and no one likes to talk about. It’s the fear that, if I were to be fully known and fully seen, I would find myself disconnected, judged, separated, and without relationship. Shame tries to justify our lies and our secrecy, whispering in our ear that no one is hurt by what they don’t know. Brené Brown describes shame as the voice in our head that says, “Never good enough!” and “Who do you think you are?” We hide the parts of ourselves we are ashamed of out of a desire for self-protection. But the result is toxicity to our souls and to our deepest relationships.
As a Christian counselor, I have seen shame take many forms. Shame has been the catalyst of addictions and eating disorders, the root of social anxiety, and the unexplained elephant in the room when everyone stops talking. I’ve also seen shame convince faithful Christians that they are not actually believers: “If I truly believed Jesus died for my sins like I say I do, I wouldn’t feel this shame any longer, so I must be all talk and not a real believer.” My response to this is that shame needs to be addressed both vertically (with God) and horizontally (with people). In the same way that God uses the people around us to encourage, strengthen, challenge, and grow us, my experience has been that God also uses people to free us from shame.
How Do We Become Free from Shame?
According to Brené Brown, if you want shame to grow, drop it into a petri dish together with secrecy, silence, and judgment … and wait. As humans, we tend to put considerable energy into wrapping shame up into a tight little ball and shoving it deep into the recesses of our souls. This is precisely what shame tries to convince us to do, and precisely what allows it to flourish. If this is true, then the antidote to shame is the light of empathy. It is that unbelievable moment when we’ve shared our deepest brokenness with another person, and rather than pointing a finger in judgment or turning away, that person stays connected to us. In one way or another, they communicate to us that they are just as broken as we are, that they get how painful brokenness can be, and that they are not going anywhere. In that moment our metaphorical sunlight breaks through, and shame begins to wither.
Facing Shame Requires Enormous Courage
If you have ever stepped out to share something that you are ashamed of only to have people respond with judgment and exclusion, you will know exactly what I mean. The good news for Christians is that our faith can offer us courage in these moments. We can cling tightly to our belief that Christ has, in fact, washed us clean, that He has made us worthy and deserving of relationship, and that He chooses us anew each moment of the day. From His love, we can build the courage it requires to step out in vulnerability. Our beliefs and convictions as Christians can open the door for relational experiences with one another that then draw us back even closer to our Creator. Each time we reveal our brokenness to another person and he or she responds with grace and relationship, we see a reflection of God’s love.
Addressing Shame in Christian Counseling
If you are struggling with shame and are seeking the courage it takes to step out in vulnerability, a Christian counselor can offer guidance and help. If secrecy, silence, and judgment cause shame to flourish and grow, Christian counseling can provide the safety, empathy, and non-judgment that opens the door for healing. We’ve all experienced times in our lives when that voice saying “You’ll never be good enough!” plays loudly in our minds. However, when we cling tightly to the meaning of the cross and choose to step out in vulnerability and authenticity, asking God to meet us there, we can experience true healing from shame.
Brené Brown. March 2012. “Listening to Shame” on TedTalks. http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame
“Woman Expressing Vulnerability in the Dramatic Interior,” ID # 100157535
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